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The Church Event: Call and Challenge of a Church Protestant.

By Vitor Westhelle. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0-8006-6332-2. ixand 181 pages. Paper. $20.00.

It is hard to capture the essence of this book in a short review. Not only is Westhelle a profound ecclesiologist, but he also has a rhapsodic, poetic way of writing; he invites us to consider new metaphors from which to see the identity and mission of the church. Likewise, Westhelle is gifted in interweaving the classic Reformation heritage with contemporary theological concerns, all in a way that is likely to catch one off-guard, and thus open readers to new insights.

While appealing to recent social models of the Trinity, such as John Zizioulas', as a basis by which to understand human community (chapter five), Westhelle self-consciously offers a distinctively "protestant" view of the church, one whose ethos is itself an event, grounded in word and sacrament, but transformative of peoples' lives. Most importantly, the nature of the church is itself eschatological (29), defined by God s justifying word and anticipating the coming kingdom. By the same token, appealing to Luther's Genesis Commentary which claims that the church (ecciesia) was established before the structures of home (oeconomia) and government (politia) as a place of respite between them (9), Westhelle offers a "radically catholic" ecclesiol-ogy, inclusive of all humans.

As eschatological, the church is an "instrument" of the word of God (38), dependent upon God's creative action. It is a "happening" in which people are gathered around word and sacrament (40). With respect to scripture as the church's authority for life and teaching, Wes-thelle notes that scripture is "more than enough." By inculcating Christ among us, it takes away our attempt to bargain with God (74). Likewise, the church is a community of salvation. Building on the etymology the Greek word soteria and the Latin word sales, salvation involves healing, curing, and preserving on the one hand, and delivering, rescuing, and liberating on the other. "Hence ... we can say that the church is the community of salvation insofar as, and only insofar as, it manifests itself in the places of perdition as a community that both heals and liberates. Where this happens there is the church. Church happens! We believe it; we do not believe in it ..." (93). In that light, the church must ever be vigilant to preserve itself from idolatry and demons (manifest in individuals as self-estrangement, 99). Forgoing any self-righteousness, Jesus' followers (in light of Matthew 25) were completely unaware that they were in fact doing good in their works to the needy.

In a brilliant study of the story of Zacchaeus, Westhelle notes that Jesus' interruption of Zacchaeus' life illustrates a "harsh grace" to a man whose vocation is intertwined with Roman violence and brutality (131). Honoring both Sabbath rest and work, Westhelle concludes: "Church is aroused and inflamed by the white fire in the interstices of our ecclesial discourses, offering hope, a hopeful anticipation of the promise of something nearby or at hand, adjacently both ready and at ease" (168).

This book is highly recommended for thoughtful pastors, theologians, church adjudicatories, and seminary students.

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Author:Mattes, Mark
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2011
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